We cope much better, in a way, when we can identify a villain and deal with them, than we do when a problem has many contributors, particularly if we ourselves are part of the problem.
The furore over Fred Goodwin’s knighthood which has led to him being ‘stripped’ of his ‘Sir’ title is a case in point. I come to bury Sir Fred’s knighthood not to praise it but the evil that men do throughout their lives lives on whether or not they are called ‘Sir’. It seems odd to me that he was once regarded, by committees of our society, as being worthy of an ‘honour’ for services to banking but that when he continued doing his banking job he somehow slipped off the perch on which ‘we’ had put him. Was the Sir Fred before the banking crisis a much better person than the Mr Fred after the banking crisis?
If you are a person who cares about ‘honours’, and I’m guessing that maybe Mr Fred is, then you must feel as though you have won the lottery of life if you get a ‘Sir’ but it is a gift from a grateful nation and so there must be a question about ‘our’ judgement if we give someone an honour and then deem it appropriate to take it back. We backed the wrong horse, we look foolish, don’t blame the horse, however awful it was, for our misguided selection.
I don’t feel sorry for, or any affection for, Fred Goodwin, but I assume that the pre-knighthood Fred Goodwin was a very similar person to the post-knighthood Fred Goodwin.
And then there is that Stephen Hester chap at RBS. He was hounded into giving his bonus back. Again, it’s difficult to feel very sorry for him, and I don’t, although, actually, maybe I do, just a little. He didn’t get RBS into a mess, he is trying to get it out of a mess. And although I can’t tell whether he is doing that well or not, everyone seems to say that he is doing a good job. So why does he have to give up his bonus?
Hester can’t have held a gun to the head of the RBS board to dictate his terms and conditions of employment, he was offered them. And ‘we’ own more than 80% of that company so surely, again, ‘we’ were at fault not Mr (soon to be Sir?) Hester.
Regular readers of this blog may have picked up the impression that I am not the natural ally of very rich bankers so these two gentleman are not likely ever to become my best mates but it seems to me that a bonus of over £1m and the three letters ‘Sir’ are pretty small beer in the banking system as a whole and how it ought to be reformed.
This week, ‘we’ have made the banking system a personal issue about two men. We have shown our envy and vindictiveness, which is very human of us, but have we reformed the system? Is a banking system without Stephen Hester getting a£1m bonus a much better one than one where he does? And is a banking system with Mr Fred a former participant a better one than one with Sir Fred in that position? It’s the system that needs changing.
And, to bring me finally to the type of subject you expect me to write about, it’s almost always the system that needs changing.
When a gamekeeper is convicted of a wildlife offence it is too easy to demonise that single person – and maybe they should indeed be despised depending on the circumstances – but their personal actions are set in the context of their employers’ wishes and the wider context of how Society as a whole regards wildlife. The system needs changing and many involved in the system need to be motivated to change it rather than us regarding the matter as closed when one miscreant gets his just rewards.
And if farmers went out and shot skylarks in their fields then we would find it easy to do something about the millions that have been lost from our lives over the years. But because it is the system of agriculture that drives wildlife from our fields, and we are all part of that system because the subsidies are given by governments that we elect and the produce is bought through supermarkets that we patronise, then it is much more difficult to save the skylark and other wildlife. A single rich farmer shooting 20 skylarks would be a publicity gift, and no doubt that farmer would be pilloried publicly, but because that isn’t how we have lost millions of skylarks it is much more difficult to shift the system. We are all arms-length skylark killers so we don’t solve the problem.
And the solution to all this is to act to change the system. Be radical and be active. You don’t have to man the barricades or throw a petrol bomb but why not become more politically active and be an active consumer? Changing the system takes a lot of people and probably a lot of time. We need banking systems, farming systems, political systems, energy systems, fisheries systems and education systems that make the world a fairer and more ecologically sustainable place to live. For that I would happily let Mr Fred stay Sir Fred and rich Mr Hester stay even richer.